ASHTON — With her four children at her bed side, Mary Madelyn Hill (Wagner) of Ashton, passed away peacefully on June 23, 2017. Mary was born on March 27, 1926 in Boston, Mass. Being the only child of Frederick and Ethel (Stefan) Wagner of Ashton, her parents gave Mary a pony and a German Shepherd for companions. Mary maintained a love for horses and big dogs throughout her life and every family dog over the years was loyally devoted to her.
Mary graduated from Ashton High School with the “Class of 1943” and received her teaching degree in 1946 from Northern Illinois State Normal University in DeKalb, which later became Northern Illinois University. In a twist of fate, Mary’s first job as a teacher was at the Middlebury Country School on Reynolds Road where she had been a student only eight years earlier.
On Sept. 4, 1948, Mary and O. Donald Hill were married at the Ashton Methodist Church. After living just south of Creston for two years, Mary and O.D. bought a farm a few miles south of Ashton which was home for the next 67 years. They became members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ashton beginning a life-long involvement with the Church where Mary served in many capacities over the years including Sunday School teacher, Summer Bible Camp teacher and superintendent, church librarian, Sunday School superintendent, youth counselor, member of the Ladies Aide, and more.
Life on the farm was busy growing tomatoes and raising sheep in the early years.
To pick and prepare the tomatoes for shipping, O.D. and Mary would arrange for crews of migrant laborers from south Texas to live on the farm each year during tomato season. Mary embraced the multi-cultural environment and worked hard to learn Spanish so she could reach out to as many workers as possible. She developed a life-long interest with speaking Spanish and cooking authentic Mexican food. After several years, growing tomatoes gave away to growing seed corn. When corn harvest season came each fall, Mary and other ladies from the community would crew the corn sorters making sure only the best quality corn made it through to be packaged as Funk Bros. seed.
Despite the constant work that was required on the farm, Mary found time to take her children along with their childhood friends on many family outings. Mary loved to family camp overnight at White Pines State Park as well to take carloads of kids to swim at the Lincoln Lodge in Dixon and the Vagabond Inn in Rochelle. Mary’s love for exercise extended to supporting the athletic endeavors of her children.
For years, Mary drove the station wagon filled with her children and neighbor kids to baseball games, basketball games, football games, track meets and cross-country meets. When O.D. developed a passion for playing golf, Mary decided she had better learn how to play as well. After learning the basics of game, she invited herself to go to the golf course with O.D. Unaware that she had been taking lessons, O.D. was highly amused to discover that his wife was now a golfer as well.
Mary made Christmas an extra-special time of the year for her family. Every room in the farm house was filled with holiday decorations that she had made over the years including intricate, egg-shell Christmas tree ornaments. Everyone in the family, including the cat, had their own home-made Christmas stocking.
An avid and resourceful traveler, Mary organized lengthy family road trips to Canada, Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Washington state and Florida. Mary somehow found a way to feed four kids three times a day, clean the daily piles of dirty clothing, and referee the constant squabbles while still managing to enjoy the trip herself.
In their later years, Mary and O.D. spent 10 winters on Dauphin Island, Ala., and then the next 15 winters in the Winter Haven retirement community in Brownsville, Texas. These were fun spots for the grandkids to visit Grandma and Grandpa which always meant trips to the beach romping with the dogs and collecting shells.
Throughout her life, Mary devoted countless hours and years to helping others. She was truly selfless and always concerned with the needs of those around her. Mary co-founded the Food Pantry over 40 years ago in Ashton which continues to provide much needed staples to local families. She devoted decades of her time and energy to St. John’s Lutheran Church and its affiliations like Green Wing Bible Camp in Amboy and the Nachusa Orphanage. She volunteered for many years at the Franklin Grove Nursing Home and as a hospice volunteer for the church visiting the terminally ill in the local hospitals. She was always willing to visit with those who had few people to visit with. She had a gift for reaching out and helping others. It was never a chore for her, just something she did as part of her nature.
Mary was happiest with the simple pleasures in life like sitting on a lawn chair at the farm to watch the lightening bugs come out in the summer evenings. She loved walking the beach with her dog and collecting shells with which she would invariably create some sort of art work. She loved to read and was rarely found without a book nearby with a page marker sticking out of it.
Mary was one of the kindest, warmest, most giving individuals that God ever created. She leaves behind many friends and family members whose lives have been greatly enriched by having been around her. She gave far more in life than she ever received in return and she was perfectly OK with that.
Mary is survived by her husband of 69 years, O. Donald; her daughter, Suzanne Royer of DeKalb; her sons, John Hill of Rockford, James and Sue (Nyberg) Hill of Hastings, Minn., and Joel and Donna (Cardinale) Hill of Dallas, Texas; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A visitation will be held at 9:30 a.m. followed by a Memorial Service at 11 a.m. with a reception immediately following on Saturday, July 8 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ashton. In lieu of flowers, memorial funds have been established benefiting St. John’s Lutheran Church and the Franklin Grove Nursing Home.
You may sign the online guest book at www.UngerHorner.com.